The Return on Investment of Time Spent on Your Own Leadership Development 

January 23, 2023 | ASTHO Staff

"I initially felt uncertain about my readiness for this level of leadership, but I was empowered and encouraged by my DELPH network and others who have invested in my leadership journey, so I applied."

Like any skill, it takes time and practice to achieve expertise. Leadership is no different. Simon Sinek says, “Leadership requires two things: a vision of the world that does not yet exist and the ability to communicate it.” When it comes to public health, leadership is multi-faceted, and the skills of vision and communication are essential. ASTHO’s Diverse Executives Leading in Public Health (DELPH) program seeks to improve on these two fundamental skills as part of our leadership development program.

We invited two DELPH scholars from cohort one—Jill Miller and Alexis Charpentier—to reflect on their completion of the 10-month program and discuss how learning about one’s own leadership style is critical for success. Both scholars have advanced in their jobs since completing the program and are great examples of why you should invest time into studying and improving your own leadership practice.

How would you describe your own leadership style?

How I view myself as a leader is like a conductor who is leading an orchestra. In ensuring an organization’s vision comes to fruition, everyone has a part to play (members of the orchestra), and a true leader (conductor) can navigate these differences and guide everyone to come together in achieving the organization’s vision (achieving harmony). The leader must overcome obstacles and differences in rallying others to create a shared vision. Creating a shared vision will allow others to unite and rally together. I’ve discovered that to get others to buy into the organization’s vision, you must first build and maintain collaborative relationships. This is done by actively listening.

What would you say has had the most significant impact on your leadership journey thus far?

My personal and professional relationships! In my relationships with my supervisors, colleagues, and mentors, I have learned a great deal about leading groups. I have also gained new perspectives to consider and practices to employ. I place a high value on the needs and hopes of members of my community and the communities that I serve. I believe community engagement opportunities are also key to my leadership journey. My relationships have informed my leadership path and vision: to bolster my strengths and shed light on areas for growth.

How have the skills you learned in DELPH applied to your professional and personal life?

Prior to my experience in the DELPH program, I knew the power of policy and systems change, but I was unfamiliar with the processes involved. While going through the program, I learned what was required in creating policy, including researching and writing policy briefs and providing recommendations to stakeholders. This is an important skill to have as a public health leader and administrator, but I also feel more informed as a citizen and an advocate for myself and others in my community. I would also add that the program’s requirement for us to read “The Political Determinants of Health” by Dr. Daniel Dawes laid the foundation for me to better understand the role of policy in all our lives. I highly recommend this reading for anyone in public health leadership.

My political skills have vastly improved due to the DELPH program. The policy brief assignment taught me how to successfully write an evidence-based brief tailored for politicians making upstream decisions that affect national public health problems. We learned directly from political advisors and public health leaders who use these skills daily to advance public health initiatives rooted in health equity.

How has the DELPH program helped you in your career?

During the program, an opportunity for a leadership position became available in my health department. I initially felt uncertain about my readiness for this level of leadership, but I was empowered and encouraged by my DELPH network and others who have invested in my leadership journey, so I applied. I now have the honor of serving as the interim deputy director within the Family Health Services Division for Alameda County, CA. As a result of completing the DELPH program, I see my future leadership path filled with opportunities for advocacy and the promotion of leadership development in others.

In the short term, DELPH has already helped me advance my career. I was recently hired as the director of prevention with the National Alliance of State and Territorial AIDS Directors. The invaluable skills I learned and networks I built through DELPH equipped me with the tools to be successful in addressing health inequities by dismantling structural barriers and to lead others to follow a shared vision where quality care is accessible to anyone regardless of their ability to pay, where they come from, or how they identify. In the long term, I will continue to utilize these skills to help me improve as a leader, collaborator, and public health warrior whose vision is to live in a world where quality care is given to everyone, especially those from underserved communities.

What are some actionable steps you believe public health institutions should take to ensure diverse leadership within health departments?

Four steps come to mind:

  1. Fund public health leadership development programs for underrepresented communities.
  2. Require and support the ongoing professional development of public health employees.
  3. Build and maintain partnerships with educational institutions and community-based organizations to build pipelines to public health service careers.
  4. Encourage non-MPH professionals to join the field; a multidisciplinary workforce meets more of the needs of the community being served.

All public health institutions should prioritize diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) centered around health equity. Furthermore, leadership and board positions should reflect the DEI being prioritized in these institutions. It’s important to ensure diversity among key leadership positions because we need representation from all communities that receive services from their respective institutions.


What is a lesson or takeaway you have learned from your DELPH peers?

There were many gems, but one stands out: network, network, network, even when you feel apprehensive, or are uncertain of your next professional move. Networking is about making connections, and it’s also an opportunity to gain clarity around what you want to accomplish and where you want to be in your current or future career.

Summing up one lesson or takeaway I’ve learned from just one of my DELPH peers is difficult. All my fellow DELPH colleagues have encouraged me to always believe in myself and never doubt my passion and vision for helping others. It was nice to be in the same room with other public health warriors who shared the same passions and experienced the same barriers as I did. I loved hearing how they overcame obstacles to implement their public health visions. Thank you to all my DELPH peers for sharing your dreams and allowing me to be a part of your leadership journey to achieve your goals.